Today on the 27th of April many of us celebrate Freedom Day in a country which we call home. This public holiday commemorates the first racially free elections to take place in 1994, the year in which Nelson Mandela was elected as the first president of our reformed South Africa.

Our country was in turmoil before 1994 and it is possible to say that one of the main causes for this was that different races and cultures could not or would not see past their differences, therefore it is plausible to say that most of the happenings in our country before 1994 were due to a lack of or a diminished concern for social awareness.

Social awareness is generally defined in two ways. The first indicates that social awareness is the knowledge of what is socially acceptable and acting accordingly, whilst the second states that social awareness means being aware of different problems in society, and confronting them. When taking these definitions into account along with what we know about South Africa pre-1994 elections, it is very important that we as individuals, partners, educators, groups, leaders and South Africans develop a greater social awareness and understanding towards the improvement of our social interactions and truly aim to keep the spirit of Freedom Day alive not only this year, but for many years and generations to come.

 Here are some important tips to improve your social awareness:

  • Increase your observational ability: Try watching people in public places, taking note of their body language, subtle habits, movements and facial expressions. Now instead of being influenced by verbal cues and reactions, you are concentrating on a rational appraisal of what is actually happening in front of you. (You are thinking about what is happening instead of just getting caught up in it yourself).
  • Be realistic when interacting with other people. Focus on the truth. To do this look at people objectively and rather than noticing your differences try to find your similarities. We cannot change people’s views on things, we can only change our perceptions and how we treat them.
  • Don’t argue against prejudices. We don’t all think the same; we come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs. If you continually try to prove to someone that their view is wrong, you will only strengthen their prejudices. Be prepared to compromise and make allowances for other people’s prejudices as they probably do for you.
  • Refuse to acknowledge aggressive behaviour. Commonly when people differ or express an alternative view point, aggression comes into play. Whether verbal or physical the best course of action is always to refuse to acknowledge such attacks. Break contact and walk away, this gives you time to regain your equilibrium and helps you to avoid further fueling the heated debate.
  • Learn when and how to be assertive. We all make sacrifices during the course of our lives, but it is important to not sacrifice your dreams, happiness or individuality to better fit into a particular social or economic group. Be assertive regarding things that are important to you and avoid insincerity at all times. After all it is possible to be assertive without upsetting people.
  • The most important thing that you can learn to improve your social awareness is to develop empathy. Empathy entails that you put yourself in another’s shoes and understand their perspective. To do this you have to truly listen to what someone is saying to you, to make sure you have the correct understanding of what it is they mean. After this it is important to respond accurately and meet their needs effectively. Do not make assumptions as it is easy to misread situations and people that are different from you.

It will take some effort at first to apply the techniques mentioned above, but once you have learnt how to, it often happens without you even noticing that you are doing it.
Let’s all build and improve on our social awareness so that everyday can be a celebration of a less judgmental and more accommodating society.

Happy Freedom Day SA

[box] Written By Danette Swanepoel[/box]

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